An Easy Way To Get Along With Your Tween or Teen

Unlike the early parenting years full of gear and books about sleep training, the teen years can feel crazy. You want to get along, but it’s a challenge. Overnight, kids go from being extensions of us into the muddy waters of figuring out who they are. They seem lazy and entitled, and frustratingly, they don’t know how to do the most obvious things. And now, to further muddy the waters: smartphones. With all this in the mix, connecting with your teen is a legitimate (or “legit” in teenspeak) challenge.

We want to stop fighting and bring on some peace. But how? Read on for subtle mindset shifts that will have big impact on your relationships.

Assume Your Tween Knows Nothing…

When dealing with teens, adults make the mistake of assuming things like, “They will catch on.” Or “They will get it.”

We think they will make a change in their behavior once they ‘see the light.’  

When they fail a test, they will “get” that they have to study. When you stop cleaning their room, they will eventually get it and clean it themselves. When you say no for the 11th time, they’ll get that no means no and stop asking. *But then again, you are at the 11th no.*

Not so. One thing remains the same of all the teenagers I’ve met over the years: They are also so often without the know-how to do what is being asked of them.

What Seems Obvious To You Is Totally Foreign To Your Tween

The things we assume teens are capable of, they are not. Even though they are so tech-savvy and process information very quickly, they lack the skills they need to solve problems that require communication and deliberation.

Their defiance and attitude is partly due to the frustration and overwhelm they feel, but lack the tools to express. 

Though you feel like you being explicitly clear, remember that what is obvious to you is still abstract to them. For example, we tell them to just study and  use the textbook. We don’t realize that they don’t know how to study, or that they don’t even use textbooks anymore.

When we ask a teen to clean up their room, we forget that they may not know how to begin. I know this because when I mention in passing that you start at the ground and clean from there, something clicks!

We ask them to talk to trust us and talk to us, but we forget that, for the most part, they don’t know how to express themselves. They don’t even know the actual words for what they are feeling, much less have the confidence to go there and be vulnerable. Many adults probably feel the same way.

You Want To Get Along, Right? Try This Perspective Shift

So what is the right move here? The old school says tough love, shut up and listen. The new school says  helicopter and attach.

I agree with both and neither, so I say this:

Let’s start by re-envisioning them as  inexperienced people, but still people. (I like to think of teens as people perpetually at their first day of work.)  If you are assuming anything about them, pause and remember this: that they know very little about what seems obvious to the adults around them. We get along much better when this is tattooed in our minds.

Second thing to remember: even though they know very little about the adult world, they are able to learn.

They can learn to be resourceful, socially aware, savvy, organized, people. They can even learn to make eye contact and have conversations!  But we have to teach them, over and over again, until the lessons stick.

Getting through to your teen is a journey. Parenting teens is not an attempt to tame them into submission. Nor should the goal be to be their friend in order to get along. It’s the ongoing attempt to temper their angst and despair by getting on their level and training them from there.

If you really want to get along and bring on the peace in your household, remember that teens are new to the job. They don’t know how to be responsible, resourceful and communicative yet. Your willingness to teach them as they are will impact their willingness and ability to learn.  


  • Helaina, what a perfect post! You nailed it on all sides. I was fortunate that neither of my kids were impossible when they were teens, but you are exactly right about every point. They were learning how to “adult,” and the best I could do was set the example and put as many words to their experiences as possible. The approach and mindset shift you provide here will bring a whole lotta peace to teen or tween homes. GREAT insight!!

    February 19, 2017 at 2:43 pm
  • Love your take on this Helaina! I remember this about my two sons…their brains do not fully form till around age 26…and neither are near that! Not their fault they don’t have all the knowledge and experience yet to figure things out let alone figure the out as we parents might like! I love your suggestion to think of them as on their first day of the job, that makes it so easy to relate to our own experience and have more patience and compassion.

    February 27, 2017 at 7:40 pm

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